Thoughts On Design

The Elements of Design and My Purpose for Blogging

There are lots of terms specific to this business that people comprehend fully, but there are also others that can be confusing. And because I oftentimes find myself defining these terms with my clients, I feel this post -- perhaps my last post to be published on Design In the Woods :( -- would be an appropriate place to discuss the basic elements of design.

Side-note: Just because I'll no longer be posting on this Blogger account, doesn't mean I'm retiring. I'll just be packing up my virtual sketch board and relocating it to a new address that can be found at the end of this post.

Now hang in here with me, alright? I'm going to be referring back to my college textbook for a moment and need you to pardon some of the "boring" definitions I'm about to lay in front of you. However, with that said, I still promise this post to be highly valuable to all walks of life. So stay with me, okay?

"Elements of Design"

This is a term that describes some of the basic tools used to come up with a design solution. This term is often used to define anything that makes up the whole, however the textbook definition describes it thusly:

"There are several elements of design that interior designers use according to some basic principles to create spaces that satisfy the functional and aesthetic goals of a problem. These design elements and principles are used by painters, graphic designers, sculptors, and other visual artists."*

 In other words...these are the tools of the artist.

1. Form - linear, flat, round, curved, cylindrical, square......all types of forms make up interior spaces.


blogpost - Curvy Shapes in Interiors

2. Scale - "the relative size of something as related to another element of known size"*


blogpost - When Scale Doesn't Matter

3. Color - color can be a powerful design tool and is "one of the most dominant perceptions of the physical world"*


blogpost - Color - The Most Powerful Element of Design

4. Texture - adds another layer to the complexity of a space, can be tactile or just visual


blogpost - Project Reveal - all about texture

5. Pattern - the repetition of a decorative motif or image


blogpost - Pattern

6. Light - light affects all of the above, how we perceive objects and spaces


blogpost - Patterns of Light

The unique combinations created when these elements are combined are endless.  The absolute BEAUTY behind them is that these principles are UNIVERSAL.  Once you've learned them, you can apply them to any aesthetic endeavor , and they will help you...

...understand...develop...create... any visual medium, whether it's interior design, fine art, advertising art, fashion, product design, photography, landscape design, architecture, etc.  

Why do you think it's easy for designers to "cross over" into other markets?

  • Ralph Lauren designs everything from clothing to bedding and furniture.  
  • Michael Graves is an architect who was also tapped by Target for product design.  Now you can buy an incredibly unique broom at Target that feels good in your hands, functions beautifully, and looks good too. 
  • Phillipe Starck, architect and designer, now designs clothing, even automobiles.  

These legends are able to "cross-over" because they understand The Elements of Design.

The universal truths all designers use as the backbone of their work.

As I prepare to leave this blog and move on to my new one, I wanted to revisit the basic Elements of Design so I could tie up some loose ends and remember the purposes behind why I ever began creating this tiny bit of space in the digital universe for my thoughts. You see...

To talk about design in its purest form is a pure experience in itself. 

It's at the crux of 

WHY things are done on a project from the beginning,

WHY decisions are made along the way,

WHY everything impacts the whole,

WHY the end result is a combination of many elements and not just one,

WHY design is multifaceted and complex yet so simple and straightforward,

WHY design is important and why understanding it is even more so.



...subtly and without pronouncement, but with


(Can you tell I'm a little passionate about this???  ;-)

I'll be continuing to use these as my guide with my new site, but also with so many other endeavors in my life.

Although I'm having a little anxiety over leaving my google ranking, I'm going to leave this baby here in it's entirety. I'll refer back to it from time to time and you can feel free to do the same. It's been a great place to get my feet wet, to find my voice, to experiment, and take some missteps without making too much of a wave.  I'll always be able to look back on it and remember why I wrote some of those posts, what problems had come up on projects, what issues I was having with clients or contractors, what I had successfully been able to express to my clients and the viewers of my work and, of course...what I had not.

Friends and family often ask me why I waste time with this "blog-thing," and I reply that it's just become a part of me.  It's my creative outlet where I can say anything I want about something I care deeply about. I can't NOT do it! To my followers, supporters and those who stopped by once in awhile, I would've been here whether you came or not, doing exactly this...but it was so nice to share it with all of you. 

For all who have read this far...

Thank you. I value your friendship more than you know, and hope it can continue to grow even stronger as we take our relationship to the next level on my new website...

Screen+Shot+2012-06-19+at+8.39.26+PM.png }

I hope you'll join me there...

Image Sources: Amelia Handegan - Southern Accents,  Dick Bories and James Shearon - Elle Decor, Jonathan Berger - House Beautiful,  Aston Design Studio, Gideon Mendelson - House Beautiful, Zamzam Riad Boutique Hotel

* Definitions taken from Interior Design Reference Manual, David K. Ballast.

*All information in quotes taken from Interior Design Reference Manual by David K. Ballast, AIA

Discussion Continued...


The application of pattern adds interest and dimension to a space,


makes a statement about style,


gives focus to a room,


develops a more complex look,


tells a story about YOU.


All these are reasons to apply a particular pattern to a space.  

Are you bold? 


 A daring and adventurous personality?


Are you quiet and contemplative?


Lively and personable?


Are you most comfortable in a peaceful sanctuary?


Are you trendy and stylish?


Stable and methodical?


Patterns have a language all their own.  

They speak volumes.

For this reason, I requested little to no pattern on my website.  I didn't want my site to speak, I wanted my images to do the talking.

Another heated e-mail debate erupted with my marketing guy.  (He's so into all this.)  

"NO." I said.  No pattern.  No competition for my images! They need to stand alone.  

He's incredibly persistent.  I received link after link of new patterns applied to the background, the sidebar, etc.  Link after Link after Link.

We've ever so slightly compromised, but I do consider this my win. :)

He's a bit miffed, but assures me I'm the boss.  (After trying yet again with another pattern).

"It's going to be boring", he says....among other things. "I'm tellin' ya...It's gonna look dull if there's not any."

Knowing what I know about the application of pattern, I make my own matter what he says......

"You'd probably be able to get away with not having any texture if the site featured a nice spectrum of different colors, but it doesn't - yours is more minimalistic, color-wise (not that there's anything wrong with that)." we're back to color!

Source images:  Gideon Mendelson-House Beautiful, David Mitchell-House Beautiful, Daniel Sachs-House Beautiful, Carleton Varney-House Beautiful, Amelia Handegan-Architectural Digest, Kazumi Yoshia-Elle Decor, Michael S. Smith-Architectural Digest, Thom Felicia-Elle Decor, Suzanne Tucker-Architectural Digest, Sig Bergamin-Elle Decor, Suzanne Tucker-Elle Decor Showhouse via katie-did blog

Discussion Continued...

Color, A Powerful Element of Design

The most noticeable of all the elements of design is color. 


Jamie Drake - House Beautiful

That's Design 101.

Some of you might wish to debate that, but I checked back in my textbooks. 


it's color.

Because one of the first things your eye recognizes when you look at something, whether it's a piece of art, signage, fashion, an interior, anything color.


Mark Rothko poster -



Hillary Thomas and Jeff Lincoln - House Beautiful

Want to make a statement?


Stand out from the crowd?


Use some color.


Jonathan Berger - House Beautiful

My marketing/website designer and I have been in many discussions about the look of my new site.  He's a fan of various colors.  I can see his point.....especially after my bit of research.  However, I want my work's images to be the first thing someone notices on my site, not the copy, or the sidebar. 

Sooooooo, am I right???

We'll see.  I'm not sure who's going to win this one yet. 

Discussion Continued...

When Scale Doesn't Matter

There are some rules to decorating, but if you peruse the high end magazines and projects of top notch designers working these days, you soon realize that rules are often disregarded.  Whether it's done for personal taste, dramatic impact, or simply to do something unique, rules in decorating are often made to be broken.  This is when decorating becomes art and in the hands of a real designer, it has incredible results.

Scale is one of those elements that can be toyed with to create real drama.  A large object in a small space or a small object in a large space can really command your eye and focus your attention.  If you want a relaxed, peaceful, calm interior, scaling something to fit the space is very appropriate.  However, if you want some drama or to create a really personal, artistic statement, try over or under scaling an object of importance in a space.


Dick Bories and Jim Shearron - Elle Decor

Doesn't that small, beautifully carved clock command attention in the vast expanse of all that white?


Patrick Printy - Elle Decor

The justaposition of the hefty brass candlestick on top of the tiny table arouses curiosity.


Susan Ferrier - House Beautiful

Is there any doubt that it's all about the chandelier?


Barry Dixon - House Beautiful

The large mirror makes a grand gesture. By comparison, the sconces are dwarfed, making the space seem even grander.


Steven Gambrel - Elle Decor

The vintage Italian light fixture is small in scale with the rest of the room.  That scale dynamic emphasizes it's importance.


Jim Hodgins - House Beautiful

That piece of art above, reaching from sconce to sconce and from the ceiling down past the top of the sofa creates a strong visual in this room and commands your attention.  Don't you feel you're in the presence of a real masterpiece?


Steven Gambrel - Elle Decor

What a strong, architectural presence the overscaled dentil moulding gives this room 


Amilee Wendt - ASID Showhouse 2011

I loved this light fixture Amilee Wendt chose for the study in the showhouse I was in last spring.  It was such a bold statement.


Jay Griffith - House Beautiful



I love how dramatic this little lamp and table looks in the tall niche one would typically want to fill with art or stuff.

Anytime you break the rules, you must be careful it doesn't look like a mistake.  In the hands of masterful designers, breaking the rules can become art.

Discussion Continued...